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Wood Village proposes new utility fee

The Wood Village City Council next Tuesday will consider creating a new monthly utility fee aimed at ensuring a regular source of money for the upkeep of its roads and stormwater drainage system.

Under the current proposal, ratepayers would be charged on a rate structure that estimates the average number of vehicle trips their residence or business generates a day. The new fee could generate $70,000 to $385,000 a year, depending on which rate the city sets.

City officials said a new utility fee is needed to free up the general fund, which now pays for the roads and stormwater system, for other rising expenses such as public safety and employee benefits. Other cities in East County have separate utilities for their roads and stormwater.

But some residents are concerned that a new utility fee would further stretch their budgets when added to property taxes and water rates, which are expected to go up July 1.

Many of the details still have to be worked out. The City Council will consider several recommendations put forward in the proposal by FCS Group, a Portland-based financial consulting firm, and a citizens advisory group of residents and business representatives that has reviewed it since December 2011.

Wood Village's roads and stormwater system compete for priority in the general fund, which also pays for police, fire, parks and city administration. City officials said other costs such as public safety are growing faster than its revenues. Flat revenue from the state highway fund and the county gas tax has also impacted the city's ability to pay for the maintenance of its roads and stormwater system.

City Administrator Bill Peterson said the city has not carried out any major road projects or done any outlay/paving work on its 4.4 miles of city-owned roads since 2003. Minor road maintenance has been done sporadically over the years based on urgency.

'The city has not been able to transfer enough money from the general fund to deal with road maintenance,' Peterson said. 'All the basics - police, fire, parks - get funded first.'

Peterson said the Pavement Condition Index, which measures the condition of roads, ranks city-owned roads as 'very good.' But the roads are declining in quality each year, he said.

Wood Village may also decide to work out a deal with Multnomah County, which controls 13.28 miles of roads in the city, to contribute some of the revenue from the utility fee toward the upkeep of county-owned roads. The county is struggling to maintain its roads because of budget cuts and rising costs.

New fee worries residents

How much the new utility will cost ratepayers will depend on which rate structure the City Council selects and if it decides to offer discounts or limits.

Margaret York, board chairwoman for the Treehill Park condominiums, said she is concerned about how the new utility fee will affect her fellow residents, many of whom are working class or retired and struggling to make ends meet.

She said residents at the 108-unit complex pay monthly dues for service; utilities comprise around 40 percent of the budget. Last year, Treehill Park spent more than $72,000 for the water and sewer utilities, she said, on top of other rising expenses such as waste collection.

'We increased our dues from last year by about 5 percent,' York said. With the new utility fee, the dues may go up even more than that each year, she said.

Wood Village resident Bob Shapley said the proposed utility fee will go up every year and does not have a cap. He added the proposal deserves more than one public hearing so residents and business owners can weigh the benefits and drawbacks.

The proposal recommends setting up a process for residents and businesses to appeal their utility fee.

The City Council could also decide to offer discounts for seniors and low-income residents. The proposal stated the city will have to reimburse the utility for any discounts through the general fund.

Peterson said the utility fee is not a done deal. The City Council can also decide to take no action, deny the proposal or schedule more hearings on it.




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